Sustainable Labs

Globally, the need for modern laboratories is on the rise; increases in population equate to rising need for teaching, research, clinical, industry, high-tech and pharmaceutical laboratories.  According to the International Institute for Sustainable Laboratories (I2SL), the typical laboratory building requires 5-10 times more energy compared to an equal sized office building.  The resources to construct, operate, maintain and renovate a laboratory building is at the highest end of life-cycle cost for a multitude of reasons.

Moving beyond the initial focus of reducing energy needs in laboratory buildings, and building on success in that realm, the next major focus should be on water use reduction, as well as correctly identifying and right-sizing central services such as RO/DI water, gases, compressed air and vacuum.  Deep investigation into actual needs and usage will help guide these efforts, as most stakeholders will claim “I never us it (insert service here) but you should put it in for future use”.  This direction has led to “flexible” labs loaded with central services which may never be used, resulting in oversized systems and massive networks of piping. Stakeholders need to be educated on the options, for example the 3 ways vacuum can be provided without using single-pass water.  Every sink, and especially every cupsink, should be questioned, as many are used for highly unsustainable practices which are not consistent with good lab practices. Reducing and replacing with more sustainable choices should be a goal of every laboratory project.

Pushing laboratory design to the next level of sustainability will require more than acres of photovoltaic panels and Energy Star equipment, it will require creative, knowledgeable experts questioning the way things have always been done, in the lab, in design, and in construction.